British Columbia

Homeless advocates await election results, fear momentum may be lost

Advocates in the Lower Mainland are concerned about losing momentum in the fight against homelessness as they await a new slate of elected officials in many municipalities.

'There's a lot of uncertainty on where change is going to take place,' says advocate

Homelessness is a hot election topic in many communities across B.C. (Dillon Hodgin/CBC)

Advocates in the Lower Mainland are concerned about losing momentum in the fight against homelessness as they await a new slate of elected officials in many municipalities. 

This fall, more mayors and councillors than usual are stepping down from their roles, leaving room for new officials with their own ideas about how to tackle homelessness in their communities. 

Keir MacDonald, deputy executive director of the Lookout Society, a non-profit organization that helps vulnerable adults find housing, says organizations like his have built strong relationships with existing municipal governments. 

The result has been much progress to help the homeless in B.C., he says — especially in the past year as new federal and provincial funding has come into play. 

"There's a lot of uncertainty on where change is going to take place," MacDonald said. "And where is [homelessness] likely to stand for these candidates."

Goldstream Provincial Park in Langford is one of a handful of places across the province with a homeless camp. Advocates say homelessness is playing out as a hot topic in those communities. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

MacDonald's organization helps to house and serve the homeless in 14 communities across the Lower Mainland. He says the issue is playing out differently across the region.

He says more than 2,000 new homes have been provided for those who don't have one. In particular, he points to the success of modular homes built across B.C. 

But homelessness remains a contentious topic in many communities that have yet to agree on solutions, he says. 

Support from province, feds

In the past year, the federal and provincial governments have made large financial contributions toward addressing homelessness, MacDonald says.

The bottleneck sometimes comes down to the local level, where municipal governments can't seem to agree on locations and rezoning for housing projects. 

Solutions like modular housing have been contentious in cities from Vancouver to Victoria and beyond, where some residents have been concerned the projects might attract increased drug use or garbage.

The problem is especially acute in Maple Ridge, Macdonald says, where residents and elected officials have fought over how and where to house the residents of a growing homeless camp

Homeless counts in various regions across B.C. have shown an increase in the number of homeless people. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

'It really does hit home'

Darrell Pilgrim, executive director of the Maple Ridge branch of the Salvation Army, says homelessness is definitely an election issue in his community.

"I do believe that this community overall is caring and compassionate. And that it wants to help people," Pilgrim said. "The solutions to homelessness is what everyone hasn't agreed on yet."

So far, mayoral candidates in Maple Ridge have disagreed on whether housing or services like drug treatment should come first. 

Pilgrim says providing housing, along with social services, for those who need it ultimately benefits everyone in the community. 

One point Pilgrim and MacDonald agree on is that the housing crisis affects many people across B.C.  And there is support for people who don't have access to housing.

"So many people are being impacted by this and are one pay cheque away from not being able to afford their rent or their mortgage," MacDonald said. "I think it really does hit home for people."

About the Author

Maryse Zeidler

@MaryseZeidler

Maryse Zeidler is a reporter for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at maryse.zeidler@cbc.ca.

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